Mueller Probe Points to Numerous
Links Between Trump Associates, Russia
December 11, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump has insisted on numerous occasions
that his 2016 presidential campaign had nothing to do with Russia.
“Time for the Witch Hunt to END!” Trump said in a message on Twitter
last Saturday. “After two years and millions of pages of documents
(and a cost of over $30 million) no collusion!” Trump tweeted
But the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in Trump's
victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton has unearthed plenty of
evidence connecting Trump associates with Russia. In the year and a
half since Robert Mueller took over the investigation into possible
collusion, charging documents have alleged that more than a dozen
Trump associates – from former campaign manager Paul Manafort to
son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner – communicated with
Russians, in one form or another, during and after the election.
While the Mueller investigation operates under grand jury secrecy,
the evidence the special prosecutor has referenced in court
documents points to deeper and broader than previously thought
contacts between people in Trump’s orbit and Russian operatives who
sought to gain influence with the Republican president.
The latest revelation on the nexus between Trump and Russia appeared
in a sentencing memo for former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who
pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress about Trump's efforts,
during the campaign, to build a Trump tower in Moscow.
Last year, Cohen told lawmakers that his efforts on behalf of Trump
to win Russian approval and build a new high rise in Moscow ended in
January 2016, just as the campaign was heating up, whereas in fact
they continued through June 2016, shortly before Trump secured the
Republican presidential nomination. In the memo, Mueller’s
prosecutors wrote that Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet”
for Trump but subsequently turned on his former boss, has provided
“information about his own contacts with Russian interests during
the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making
Cohen, who broached the possibility of a meeting in New York between
Putin and Trump during the U.N. General Assembly in September 2016,
has told prosecutors that he had "conferred" with Trump about the
idea before “reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a
meeting," according to the memo.
The meeting did not take place for reasons that prosecutors did not
Russian attempts to set up such a meeting persisted, however. In
November 2016, Cohen spoke with a Russian who offered "political
synergy" with the campaign and "repeatedly proposed a meeting
between Putin and Trump.
“The person told Cohen that such a meeting could have a ‘phenomenal’
impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension’… because
there is ‘no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the
President of Russia,]’” according to the memo.
Cohen did not follow up on the invitation, according to the court
filing, explaining to prosecutors that “he was working on the Moscow
Project with a different individual who Cohen understood to have his
own connections to the Russian government.”
The unidentified individual is believed to be Felix Sater, a
Russian-born real estate developer who worked as an adviser for the
Trump's interest in doing business with Russia goes back decades. In
2013, he brought the Miss Universe beauty pageant to Moscow.
Throughout the 2016 campaign Trump repeatedly praised Putin and
reveled in the Russian president's compliments before the
relationship soured after the election.
The latest filings came at the end of a whirlwind week in the Russia
investigation that saw similar documents filed in criminal cases
involving Manafort and former Trump National Security Advisor
Michael Flynn.Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in denying he
had conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. shortly
after the election and before Trump took office, at a time Russia
was trying to get out from under U.S. sanctions.
Cohen sentencing memo represents the first time the special counsel
has alleged a discussion between Trump and his lawyer about a
meeting with Putin during the 2016 election.It suggests that Trump
remained focused on his business interests even as he was running
for the White House.
“If the project was completed, the Company could have received
hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing
fees and other revenues,” the Cohen sentencing memo says.
Other Trump associates accused of interacting with Russia during and
after the 2016 campaign include former attorney general Jeff
Sessions who met with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak
during the campaign and former campaign foreign policy advisor
George Papadopoulos who tried to set up a meeting between Trump and
Putin during the campaign.